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MACABRE French maids and strong male dancers stood out at this year’s Baxter Dance Festival. It wasn’t that there were many maids – only two choreographers used the motif – but the ones who did made them stand out.
The Eoan Dance Group’s corps of ballet dancers displayed a finely honed sense of ensemble work, while Michelle Reid’s Mischief at the Manor evinced the playful style she has become know for.
At times Reid’s choreography called for more acting skills than dancing, but the dancers pulled it off with great aplomb.
In Fragile Falling, the commissioned piece by Ananda Fuchs, Mduduzi Nyembe and Andile Vellem danced a compli- cated handshake to a Rasta beat. Fuchs made the most of the Baxter’s cavernous stage with beautiful staging, incorporating a huge mirror – bringing the audience into the performance – into the passage with the two guys.
Her piece interrogated our relationship with hair – how it is bound up in our personal and social histories – and while the women were more present, again the men made the greater impact.
Many of the pieces on the main programme could have withstood a good cut – being too long.
The premature applause from the audience was an indication that many people were quite ready for several pieces to end long before they actually did.
While dancers from iKapa Dance Theatre, Jazzart Dance Theatre and Underground Dance theatre displayed individual flashes of abundant skill (here’s where the men outshone the women) the pieces as a whole simply came across as self-indulgent.
Sibikwa Arts Dance Co are more a dramatic performance arts kind of group and their dancing was unfocused.
They explored a seldom touched subject – Xhosa male initiation rites – and drew on some very little seen images with their video projection, but the dancers did not support the images.
The two women visibly flagged as the protracted performance wore on, and their presence was a bit of a mystery in a piece that emphasised this very masculine of rituals.
Themba Mbuli also drew on strong images – familiar pictures depicting Rivonia trialists and other detainees undergoing humiliating treatment – for Dark Cell, but again the link between the images and his dancing only came right at the end.
Duo – choreographed by Marlin Zoutman and Grant van Ster (both previous Baxter commissioned artists) – was just the right length though.
The piece had the two mirror each other, giving a much more delicate version of the complicated handshake from Fuch’s piece.
Bradley Shelver (SA dancer/choreographer who is based in the US) – here to choreograph with the Cape Dance Company’s annual showcase at the end of the year – was in a league of his own with his sinuous Healing Song.
Assuredly moving from spotlight to spotlight, his extremely controlled performance did not tell a story as much as evoke emotion.
Held over 10 days, the festival featured more than 300 dancers showcasing the work of more than 50 choreographers between a main and fringe programme.
It is the biggest annual dance platform in Cape Town, and it only features dance, no workshops, master classes or films, making it a festival aimed at as much at a paying audience as the dancers and choreographers.
But, there was nothing to excite the audience and get them talking about the festival.
Organisers might think of curating the pieces on the main stage more finely – sometimes less is more.